Fresh off the “Kirill the Thrill” comeback two nights ago, the Minnesota Wild are set to square off against the Los Angeles Kings once again. The Wild overcame a 3-1 deficit in the third period with goals coming from Victor Rask and Marcus Foligno in the final frame to force overtime in the season opener.
In his first NHL game, Kirill Kaprizov lived up to the five-year hype and capped his debut off with a thrilling overtime breakaway goal to give Minnesota the crucial extra point in what will be a shortened 56-game regular season.
Saturday’s matchup is will likely look like a completely different game. The first period saw a lot of “feeling out of one another” and a lot of “shaking off the rust”. The final two periods were filled with power-plays given out like Oprah gives away cars.
The Wild will try and improve to 2-0-0 for the first time since 2015-16. It is always a tough task to beat any NHL team two games in a row and the Wild will need to show up and play well against Anze Kopitar, Jeff Carter and their rag-tag young teammates in order to complete a feat the team hasn’t accomplished since the season following taking a certain Russian in the fifth-round during the summer.
1. Will Kaprizov play as well as he did on Thursday Night?
Shift in and shift out, Kirill Kaprizov was the best player on the ice Thursday night and it was solidified with his two primary assists and an OT winner. No big deal. Is it fair to set the expectations for Kaprizov at his performance in his first NHL game? No, but yes at the same time.
He likely won’t produce three points a night (Wouldn’t that be awesome though?), but it should be expected of Kaprizov to be the “go-to” guy whenever he is on the ice. He simply makes plays that nobody on the team can make. The way he threaded the puck on backdoor plays to Kevin Fiala and Zach Parise from below the goaltender through multiple defenders showed the touted vision scouts have been raving about for five years. That’s not to mention his ridiculous cross-ice feed to defenseman Jared Spurgeon.
Players on Minnesota will earn quickly, if not already, that when they are on the ice with Kaprizov, that they should be ready for a pass at all times. As displayed on Thursday, the Russian will find a lane or will get creative and make his own lane to create a scoring chance.
2. Who is playing center?
It was a question going into the season, and it will continue to be a question throughout the season. To start the game, Nick Bjugstad started as the first line center followed by Nick Bonino, Joel Eriksson Ek, and Victor Rask. By the third period Wild head coach Dean Evason shuffled his centers around as Bjugstad just did not look very well and was struggling. The surprise was that Evason slid Victor Rask, whom he scratched for many games and every game in the bubble last season, into the first line center role between Karizov and Parise.
So, who will be playing center? Does Evason return to Bjugstad, slide up Rask, or perhaps a bigger mix up by switching Marcus Johansson or Jordan Greenway to center? The are a couple of routes Evason can go and he has already shown that he will change lines and even positions mid game. So, how do the Wild centers fair in the second game against the Kings? Who plays where and how do they perform?
3. Will Fiala cash in?
Kevin Fiala played a great game on Thursday but was left off the scoresheet. He got his chances and he drove play for much of the night but ended with a couple of goose-eggs in the goals and assists columns in the season opener. However, he was firing on all cylinders, recording a team-high seven shots on net and was a threat on every shift. It should be noted that he played on a line with Bonino and Johansson, who both did not play their best games. With the possibility of some line juggling on the near horizon, Fiala may benefit from a new line mate or two. It was evident that Fiala could use an upgrade alongside him, and one would wonder if the loss of the puck moving Mats Zuccarello may be a bigger blow than one once thought.
Nevertheless, it will be nice for both the team and Fiala personally for him to get the monkeys off his back by scoring his first goal of the season Saturday night.